Often referred to as one of the best business models in the world, membership sites are a great way to a build recurring and reliable stream of revenue for your business.
Don’t be under any illusion though, it requires hard work, consistent content and active community before it starts to pay big dividends over and over.
Back in 2008 I logged into a large membership site and literally fell off my chair when I saw the figures. A single website with a small team making six figures per month. Membership price was $350+ a month and on top of that the site was selling software products as a back-end product.
I then saw another site making the same kind of monthly revenue charging $9.99 a month!
It was fascinating to see sites in small unheard of niches producing larger amounts of money by providing valuable information to subscribers.
Memberships were starting to take off and these two pricing structures became apparent:
- High monthly price – Small numbers of members.
- Low monthly cost – Lots of members.
Before you even research the perfect membership site platform or plugin here are some important features the software should include:
- Works with multiple payment gateways
- Unlimited membership levels
- Allows unlimited members
- Creates user login after payment
- Integrates with multiple email list provides
- Allows you to sell recurring and one-off membership
- Allows drip feeding of content
- File protection for downloads
Most membership platforms will offer a way to:
- Sell an online course
- Sell downloads or deliver free downloads
- Sell access to a content pages
Should I run a membership site or sell an online course?
Both are technically the same thing in terms of the platform you use.
Membership Site – Charge recurring revenue to access the site and produce new content for the community.
Online Course – Charge a one-time fee to access the content no hassle of producing weekly or monthly content (offer relaunches each year with updated content).
I’ve seen membership sites become online course and online course become membership sites. If you pick the right membership site platform this switch is painless.
Before You Start
Before you build a membership site you must ask yourself the same question a customer would ask:
“what’s in it for me?”
Answering that questions will help you answer the next two questions:
- Is there enough content to justify a membership site?
- Can you produce enough regular content (weekly or monthly) to keep members happy and grow this site?
Membership sites are not always planned and become part of an additional offering from the website owner. It’s well worth your time to do some planning and estimate the churn rate, membership lifetime value (MLV), Cost per lead and much more.
This blog post is not going cover the ins and out of running a membership site, instead, we want to highlight the features your membership site solution should include helping you manage it, grow it and make it a success.
Membership Site Features
OptimizeMember is our plugin we provide OptimizePress customers that can be downloaded inside the member’s hub. It has an abundance of features for building a powerful membership site or selling an online course.
OptimizeMember provides informative explanations on how each feature works. When you expand each setting you can read the descriptions in the top area.
1. Unlimited Membership Levels
Your membership site should offer unlimited membership levels. OptimizeMember offers 10 levels with unlimited packages.
The levels create an easy way for the site manager to quickly create membership levels while packages allow for complex membership access with unlimited use.
Packages – Custom Capability Packages CCAP
These custom packages also referred to as CCAP in the shortcode means you can build custom packages within a membership level.
For example, a member on your Gold Level plan can access Gold Level content. While another member with Gold Level access AND a custom package called “ebook” could access other pages that require those custom packages.
Each page inside your site has a “Page Level Restriction” and “Require Product Packages”
Don’t be mistaken here. If you tick the package level box then only those members who have that package can access that page.
Another use for custom packages is restricting which members see what content on the same page.
For example, you could show a “Start Training” button to members who have paid for content (Eg made a purchase and were added the custom capability) and for members that don’t have the CCAP they would see a “Join” button where they can upgrade their membership.
The join page could go through to a sales page with an order button that adds the package (CCAP) to the user account, see the image below:
2. Autoresponder Integration
Building your email list should always be a top priority so check your membership software integrates with your email list provider. ActiveCampaign is one of my favourites and we recently integrated with ConvertKit, both work with OptimizeMember.
An added bonus is the option to add different members to multiple email providers.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Option > Define Mailing List/Autoresponder Configurations.
3. Hide Protected Content
Some membership sites can become cluttered with too many links. Having the option to hide membership content to nonmembers can clear up navigation’s and remove all members links. You may use this feature to hide content in a drip sequence however if you choose not to hide links it can be a clever way of teasing membership content on public pages.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Define Membership Levels and Packages.
4. Members Welcome Page
To keep your site personal and engaging your membership solution should be able to offer a custom Welcome Page or a Members Home Page
This could be the page the user see immediately after login or the main members home page. Some sites even call this the dashboard.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Members Home Page / Login Welcome Page.
5. Protect Content Redirect Page
When you protect content on your membership site usually the first page that gets setup is the page people see when they try accessing protected content.
OptimizeMember requires this page to function. It works as the page people are redirected to if they try accessing any of your members content.
This page could be your pricing page, a sales page or a page explaining they can’t access the content until they join.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Membership Options / Redirect Page.
6. Custom Membership Levels Home Page
Another sexy membership feature is to have a different page for each membership level! Users on a ‘Bronze’ plan see a page the welcomes them with a member level specific message while ‘Gold’ plan home page might see a video from you.
OptimizeMember allows 10 different homepages.
If you use a custom membership page this will override the Member Home Page above.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Members Home Page selection.
To use this feature copy the code below changing the domain with your own.
Next, design your custom membership home page but change the URL so it includes the correct membership level number, as shown below:
And the URL would look like this:
Do the same for the second custom home page and others if you want more.
And the URL would look like this:
You can create up to 10 different pages like this. You can use different naming structures in your URL. The above is just an example of making it easy to understand.
Note: The “Level 1” is always the FREE membership plan in OptimizeMember.
7. Custom Email Settings
Membership signup confirmation is important to the end user as much as it for you. Being able to configure how your email looks will ensure it gets opened and reduce your customer support.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Email Configuration.
8. New User Email
The contents of the email are also important. You want your emails to show clear instruction and links to login pages, custom service and more.
The New User email in OptimizeMember is pre-configured but you can edit this by clicking the link “click to customize“.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > New User Email Message.
There is also a bunch of email shortcode giving you more flexibility.
9. Admin Notifications
When a new member signs up you will want instant notification. This email is very rewarding when you first get started as it will motivate you more. You can configure this email to give you some extra data about the user.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Email Configuration.
10. Free Signup Forms
If you want to have members join a free plan on your site this option takes care of the signup process. It could be used to get new members into the site and navigate some free content you’ve created.
Having them join for free captures their email and grows your email list.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Open Registration.
11. Login Page Design
Want to add a little sparkle to your login pages? OptimizeMember lets you configure the login page design on your WordPress site. Like other membership platforms you should be able to configure 99.9% of the design.
You can style:
- Font size
- Logo design
Simply choose to upload your own images from free stock image sites or select existing images in your WordPress library.
Check our MarketPlace if you need a custom OptimizePress login page.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Login Page & Registration Form Design.
12. Custom Registration Form Fields
This setting really expands the use of your default registration forms allowing you to create as many custom fields as you like. The example below shows a country list being added as per this support article.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Registration/Profile Fields & Options.
13. Force Personal Emails
If you run a B2B membership site this option may help you control what emails are used during registration. You can exclude emails like info, help, admin, webmaster, hostmaster, sales, support, spam forcing users to user their personal or named account.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Registration/Profile Fields > Force Personal Emails During Registration.
14. WordPress Default Member Profile Protection
Have you ever logged into a membership site and got lost inside the WordPress default profile area? Messy hey? You can forget that with OptimizeMember. This setting allows you to block that page and all other /wp-admin pages.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Member Profile Modification
15. Custom My Account Page
Build your own My Account Page using the Custom Profile Shortcode. Its gives you control over creating your own inline profile modification form or a popup form that you can link to.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Member Profile Modification.
Simply add the shortcode [optimizeMember-Profile /] to your “My Account” page.
To produce the inline form like this
16. Custom Offer/Home Page
It just keeps getting better! With OptimizeMember you can create a custom welcome page based on each user and how active they are on your site.
Here’s an example of how you could use it to reward users.
Let’s say you have members who are very active and login to your site daily to participate in discussions and learn from you. You could build a new custom bonus page that includes a short video training session.
Then inside the One-Time-Offer, you could set this page to only show after they login X number of times.
So Mr. Brown logged in 5 times you could have a customer message for him saying “Hey Mr Brown, hope you are liking the site so far, any feedback give me a shout”
Mr. White has logged in to 20 times you could congratulate him and provide a free bonus video.
And Mr. Pink has logged in 50 times you could present them with a video message offering them a free 1-2-1 session with you.
I think you get the idea.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Optional One-Time-Offers ( Upon Login ).
Here’s how the URL’s would look for all members after their 4th and 25th login:
4:http://www.yourdomain.com/your-fourth-login-offer/ (All Members)
25:http://www.yourdomain.com/your-25th-login-reward/ (All Members)
Here’s the URL’s for individual member plans:
3:1:http://www.yourdomain.com/your-25th-login-reward/ (3rd login for Level #1 Members)
5:0:http://www.yourdomain.com/your-5th-login-upgrade/ (5th login for Free Members)
This One-Time-Offer feature would work well for offering free members a trial to a paid plan. Here’s how you could set it up.
Build the upsell page and make the URL ‘free-member-trial’ like:
Next, we want free members to see our upsell page after 14 logins. Paste your URL into the configuration field.
Add 14 – For the number of days
Add 0 for the free plan.
After 14 logins the user will be presented the upsell page.
The config file would look like this:
17. Brute Force Protection
Most membership systems will monitor how many failed logins happen on your site. A dictionary type bot attack can attempt a combination of username and password until a correct guess is made.
These strategic attacks can be blocked with OptimizeMember Brute Force IP Restriction. It will detect how many failed logins attempts are made from any one IP and block the login page.
Location: OptimizeMember > Restriction Options > Brute Force IP/Login Restrictions.
You can set how many failed logins trigger the IP ban.
You can reset users blocked IP under their profile, look for Reset IP Restrictions > tick the box > and update the user account.
18. Dual Login/Unique IP Protection
A concern of all membership site owners is password sharing. You build a site, someone joins and shares the login with their friends or even worse posts the credentials in a forum.
This is where a dual login detection feature would prevent more than two people signing in under one account.
OptimizeMember does this by monitoring how many different IP addresses login to your site under the same user account.
NOTE: Some users may use multiple devices to access your site. A conservative limit like 5 will reduce your need to unblock multiple user accounts.
Location: OptimizeMember > Restriction Options > Unique IP Access Restrictions.
You can increase or reduce the number of IP’s per customer.
Next, you set what happens when the account is blocked.
19. Quick Page Protection Restrictions
Sometimes there’s a need to quickly bulk protect pages on your site. This function is easy to use once you know your pages numbers. You can protect Posts, Pages, Category Tags by number or ALL for each individual membership level.
Location: OptimizeMember > Restriction Options > Specific Post/Page Access Restrictions.
This image below shows protecting pages under the Free, Bronze and Silver plan.
Want To Protect Pages By URL?
You can do that as well! Simply enter the URL into the field and that’s it!
Location: OptimizeMember > Restriction Options > URI Level Access Restrictions.
20. Alternative View Protection
OptimizeMember protects Categories, Tags, Posts, Pages, Files, URL’s & more. BUT, even with all of those security restrictions, it’s still possible for protected content excerpts to be seen through XML feeds, in search results generated by WordPress.
Rest assured your membership site is secured. This setting will prevent protected content in those areas.
Location: OptimizeMember > Restrictions Options > Alternative View Protection.
21. Sell Access To Pages Or Posts
This feature is very powerful, which allows you to sell access to specific Posts/Pages that you’ve created in WordPress. Specific Post/Page Access works independently from Member Level Access.
That is, you can sell an unlimited number of Posts/Pages using “Buy Now” Buttons, and your Customers will NOT be required to have a Membership Account with your site in order to receive access. If they are already a Member, that’s fine, but they won’t need to be.
Authentication is handled automatically through self-expiring links, good for 72 hours by default.
First set the post to be protected by Buy Now Option (Note it can not already be protected under OPM, if it is, go and unprotect it!)
Enter the post or page ID’s
Location: OptimizeMember > Paypal Buttons > Paypal Specific Post/Page (Buy Now).
Select the post you are selling access to. Set the price and click Generate Button Code. Paste that code onto you sales page.
In some cases, you might need to extend the link or give customer service access to the page.
Location: OptimizeMember > Paypal Buttons > Paypal Specific Post/Page (Buy Now) > Link Generator.
This is where we extend the link for an additional period of time.
Select the number of hours, days, months or years to extend access.
Click Generate Access Link and the link is provided below the button.
NOTE: The extended link above shows a tiny url.com link. This is because tiny url had been set as the link shortening service to use.
Details further down this post under URL shortening.
22. Secure File Protection
A number of times I’ve seen unprotected PDF’s appears in search results or download links posted in discussion groups, I gave up notifying the site owners.
If your membership site software can’t protect a directory or even file type in a specific location, look for another solution.
OptimizeMember cleverly takes care of protected downloads by providing a folder for secure membership site files.
Let’s say you have an ebook called Membership Profits that you zip into a folder called membership-profits.zip
To protect this zip folder you would upload it to the following location on your OptimizeMember membership site.
NOTE: OptimizeMember must be installed.
Upload to: /wp-content/plugins/optimizeMember-files
You can now use a protected link that masks the full path to the file.
Here’s how the masked link would look:
Although it masks the file path it still protects the full file URL, forcing a login by redirecting to your Membership Options pages (see feature 4).
23. File Download Limits
A powerful membership site solution will allow you to manage how downloads are accessed. If you spend hours creating new downloads for your community, why should someone who just joined be able to download everything in one go?
Location: OptimizeMember > Download Options > Basic Download Restriction.
OptimizeMember also allows you to protect how many times members can download files each day.
24. Download Limit Exceeded
If you use the download limits features it makes sense to use the Limit Exceeded page. This will create a much smoother user experiencing and save you answering emails explaining their limit has been reached.
Location: OptimizeMember > Download Options > Download Limit Exceeded Page.
25. Amazon S3/Cloudfront File Storage/Delivery
If you want to get more advanced and use third party’s storage solutions like S3 and Cloudfront, it can be done. It does require knowing your access keys and can require a little more technical skill to set up.
Location: OptimizeMember > Download Options > Amazon S3/CDN Storage & Delivery or Amazon S3/CloudFront CDN Storage & Delivery.
CloudFront Storage (even more technical)
26. Multiple Payment Gateways
It’s imperative your membership site solution offers multiple payment gateways. Stripe is the most popular gateway due to its ease of setup as well as Clickbank, Paypal and more.
Location: OptimizeMember > Other Gateways.
27. Drip Feeding Or Timed Release
Similar to the way we automatically deliver a series of emails over an extended period of time, drip feeding content is a popular feature.
This allows a site owner to automatically release content at set time periods. This structured learning process forces consumers to digest content slower by waiting until the next piece of content is released.
Location: OptimizeMember > Open a LiveEditor Page > Membership Settings > Membership Page Restrictions > Content Dripping.
It can also be managed at the WordPress edit page level.
28. Protected Content Redirect
I love that headline! Sounds technical, doesn’t it? How about membership site software that controls Protected Level Content Redirect For Individual Pages? Now we are talking!
OptimizeMember allows you to redirect every individual protected page in a drip sequence to a different page. This is ideal for letting users know the content will be released soon.
Someone is trying to access Level 2 Module A – could be redirected to a Level 2 upgrade page but if they wanted to access Level 2 Module B you could redirect them to a module upgrade page with a different style of sale message or even tease them with a module preview!
How great is that?
Location: OptimizeMember > Open a LiveEditor Page > Membership Settings > Membership Page Restrictions > Then select a page under Redirect to if content not available.
29. Inline File Extensions
There are two ways to serve files. Inline, or as an Attachment. By default, optimizeMember will serve all of your protected files, as downloadable attachments. Meaning, visitors will be given a file download prompt.
OptimizeMember allows you to choose which files type you will serve in the browser and not give the download prompt.
Location: OptimizeMember > Download Options > Inline File Extension.
30. Erase Settings
The option should be used carefully. It gives the membership site owner the ability to completely erase OptimizeMember data from the database when you deactivate the plugin.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Deactivation Safeguards.
Like most WordPress plugins the source code can easily crawl through to find potential security holes.
This powerful feature lets the membership site owner completely encrypt the installation of OptimizeMember using a unique key.
Click the auto-generated link to create your key. Read the help text to fully understand what you MUST NOT do after you enable it.
Location: OptimizeMember > General Options > Security Encryption Key.
32. URL Shortening
When building your membership site you may create some complex or masked urls for downloads or pages. This shortening feature lets you shorten a long URL to something more simple.
Remember the feature above where we sell post of page access. That’s the perfect example where this feature is used. The complex download links are created and shortened using your chosen service.
Location: OptimizeMember > General > Other Membership Options > URL Shortening Service Preference.
33. Captcha Options for Registration Forms
Captcha and Antispam on your signup form.
OptimizeMember does include a default set of keys so all you have to do is add a piece of shortcode to your proforms. Notice the last piece of shortcode below captcha=”clean”.
Location: OptimizeMember > General > Other Membership Options > CAPTCHA Anti-Spam Security.
Example of captcha
34. Prevent GZIP Compressions
If you are using any caching plugins to speed up your WordPress site this feature will automatically help prevent compressions plugins messing with your download files.
Location: OptimizeMember > OptimizeMember > Download Options > Preventing GZIP Conflicts On Server.
35. Powerful Conditional Codes
Location: OptimizeMember > API Scripting > Simple Conditionals.
This code example protects content for logged in users.
The above could work in the same way we protect content for different capabilities using ccap (see Packages in feature 1).
Hope That Helps!
You now have a list of features to help run a successful membership site.
I hope this blog post has given you some food for thought if you don’t already run a membership site. OptimizeMember is a powerful tool with more than enough features to manage how you show and hide content.
We would love to hear how you use OptimizeMember in your business.